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Privacy Commissioner examines transborder financial transactions

Ottawa, June 30, 2006 –The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is examining whether Canadians? financial records are being improperly accessed by foreign authorities, following news reports and a letter sent by Privacy International to data protection authorities around the world, including Canada, alleging that U.S. authorities are obtaining access to Canadians? information through SWIFT, a European-based financial cooperative.

Since her appointment and most recently in her Annual Report to Parliament, tabled earlier this month, Privacy Commissioner of Canada Jennifer Stoddart has raised concerns about the personal information of Canadians flowing across borders.

“Obviously this is an issue that continues to demand our attention. We do not deny or question the need to combat money laundering or terrorist financing,” said Ms. Stoddart. “However, new security powers to counter these activities may be a threat to privacy and must be carefully monitored, whether in Canada or abroad. The questions raised are timely given our recent Parliamentary appearance on money laundering legislation in Canada, as this was the theme of our submission.”

According to the Commissioner’s submission presented on June 21, 2006 to the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce, which is conducting a review of the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act, the Act is inherently intrusive and at odds with the protection of privacy, treating everyone as a potential suspect. Among other things, the Act requires the reporting of international electronic funds transfers, unlike similar legislation in the U.S. If the scope of the Act is broadened as proposed, the number of people whose financial transactions will be scrutinized will be greater than ever and the safeguards governing the regime will be weakened by government proposals. It is critical to have accountability structures in place to assess the regime’s performance, and promote openness and transparency.

The anti-terrorism financing provisions of the Act were added as a result of the passage of the Anti-terrorism Act. In May 2005 the Commissioner raised a number of concerns about the Anti-terrorism Act, urging for increased oversight and limited powers of surveillance in order to protect privacy. She made 18 recommendations in a submission to Parliament, but has received no response to the issues she raised.

The Commissioner has initiated a fact-finding mission in order to examine whether foreign authorities are improperly accessing information about Canadians’ financial transactions and to determine the extent to which her Office can get involved in the matter, given questions surrounding jurisdiction and the application of Canada’s federal privacy laws. She anticipates making public the results of her inquiries in the coming weeks.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is mandated by Parliament to act as an ombudsman, advocate and guardian of privacy rights in Canada.

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To view the Commissioner’s June 2006 submission on the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act:

To view the Commissioner’s May 2005 submission on the Anti-terrorism Act:


Anne-Marie Hayden
Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
Tel: (613) 995-0103

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